Why (Our) Exercise Might Be One of the Best Things We Can Do for Our Kids

I waved at my wife, Amy, as we did our usual “tag team” exercise routine. I had gone out early for a run, and as I got home, she was on her way out to run with her friend, Martha, who lives less than a mile down the road. After letting my kids know that I was back home, I did a “cool down” walk to the street corner, where in the distance, I could see the two figures of Martha and Amy jogging side by side.

Collectively, these two women have ten children. They’ve become regular running companions, and from what I hear, there is rarely a quiet moment between them with conversation and meditative prayer. But this morning, standing on top of the ridgeline looking down on them, I was struck that their run was about more than their own health and fellowship. I was suddenly moved at just how life-giving this run, and many runs like it, were — not just for these women, but for their families.

There are many benefits of regular exercise beyond the myriad of positive health outcomes that help improve bodily function, endurance, quality of life, and longevity. Exercise has also long been known to improve mood, enhance creativity, and improve focus and thinking abilities, especially in the immediate hours following physical activity. Repeated studies have found that sustained exercise can be as effective in treating mild to moderate depression, one of the biggest risk factors for mothers when it comes to their children’s outcomes, as medication and therapy.

Similar findings are emerging for anxiety conditions. The intellectual benefits of exercise have also been long known, whether it is improved performance in academic domains, or recovery from a stroke, or protection from various types of dementia. Even bad habits, such as smoking, appear to be addressed better when exercise is part of the equation. And for all who are 50 or older, physical fitness has been shown to be the best predictor of their psychological and intellectual functioning, which is something all older parents and grandparents need when taking care of upcoming generations.

The benefits of regular activity are not available without commitment, sacrifice, and risks. But as with any “gift of self” given, I couldn’t help but think these women, during their morning runs, were taking back to their husbands and kids more than they realized. And through my activity, so was I. Like any noble endeavor, it can always be taken to an unhealthy extreme. But it seems the greater risk is not recognizing the tremendous potential for multi-generational benefits that comes from regular movement.

As a parent, it is easy to get caught up in the pressure of all that we need to be doing for our kids. In the meantime, we can miss out on opportunities for ourselves that would give much more to our kids than a trip to the local fun factory or even repeated rides to soccer practices. What our children need most are parents who are striving towards thriving, and that never happens without finding ways to move regularly and often.

This is never truer than when this occurs with parents who struggle with a disability or physical limitations but still find ways to move in whatever way possible. We as parents can only give what we have and model who we are. Watching my wife and her friend move in unison this morning reminded me that just as life never stops moving, we shouldn’t either.

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